Final Fantasy Countdown: Final Fantasy
The time has come in early March ?? Final Fantasy XIII will not only be released in the US, but also in Europe. That’s why we’re going to review the series and its exciting story over the next few weeks. How was that with Final Fantasy III and VI? How many versions are there of Part IV? Why did we have to wait so long for Final Fantasy V? But before we talk about localization problems, name changes, fanatical fans, censorship and simplification, let’s take a look at how it all started.
The year is 1987. The little software developer Square is on its last legs. Even if a license to develop Famicom games was essentially a license to print money in the mid-1980s, Square had screwed things up a notch. Most of the games were so bad, or at best so boring, that nobody wanted them. Bankruptcy was just around the corner. And then it happened: A young, enthusiastic man by the name of Hironobu Sakaguchi suggested to the executive floor that the last project should be an RPG. And Sakaguchi, himself an enthusiastic Dungeons & Dragons player, convinced the superiors and got to work together with the American-Iranian programmer Nasir Gebelli, composer Nobuo Uematsu, illustrator Yoshitaka Amano and a few other colleagues.
The party meets Garland, the first Final Fantasy boss ever.
But even if you can hardly believe it, considering the current state of the series: The release of Final Fantasy on the Famicom (the Japanese NES) was not a world-shaking event that changed the RPG landscape forever. Not only was Japan firmly in the hands of Enix and Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy wasn’t a particularly original game either. Basically, all of the central elements are gathered from a wide variety of sources. The main inspiration is Dungeons & Dragons: The character classes and the majority of the monsters were almost 1: 1 borrowed from the D&D universe.
Little of what became the “identity” in later years. of Final Fantasy should be found in the debut. Moogles, chocobos, conjuring spells, cid … none of them. Instead, there is an almost brutal level of difficulty and a rather archaic, gameplay-hostile design. Monster fights were numerous, tough, and quite stingy with experience points and monetary rewards. The menus are simpler than in the top dog Dragon Quest, but shopping in particular is quite exhausting ?? Consumables such as healing potions can only be bought individually. Magic points are not yet pooled, instead there is a fixed number of “charges” for each magic level. And especially nice: At the beginning of each combat round, it is important to consider who is attacking which monster. If the first attacker kills the monster, the attacks of the other party members are not distributed among his colleagues, but just go nowhere …
Nevertheless, Final Fantasy was a good and above all an ambitious game, because where other contemporary role-playing games left off, Final Fantasy only began with its actual plot. At first it looks like the task of the four heroes is to save the princess kidnapped by the dark knight Garland? Greetings from Dragon Quest. But as soon as this task is done and the party crosses the now repaired bridge to the mainland, the famous Final Fantasy theme is heard for the first time, an opening text appears and makes it clear: Saving princesses is for beginners, there is a lot at stake here more!
The PSone implementation of Final Fantasy Origins offers an upscale 16-bit look.
Even if Final Fantasy was not a groundbreaking success, it was able to inspire enough fans to rehabilitate its manufacturer and bring about one or the other (more influential) sequel … Over the years, a veritable flood of remakes broke out and implementations via the (mostly Japanese) players. Final Fantasy is available for NES (once alone and once in a double pack with part 2), MSX, Wonderswan Color, Handy, PSone, GameBoy Advance, PSP and recently in Japan and the USA ?? and I’m sure to be here soon too? on the virtual console of the Wii.
So the big question remains: what’s the best way to play Final Fantasy today?
If you want to play the UR-Final-Fantasy today, you have a lot of options to choose from, but none of them are optimal … Three versions of the game have so far been officially released in Europe: Final Fantasy Origins for the PSone, Final Fantasy I & II : Dawn of Souls for the GameBoy Advance and the Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition for the PSP. However, the implementations for GameBoy Advance and PSP have been simplified so much that what was once a rock-hard adventure became an easy-going RPG stroll. If that doesn’t matter to you, you are best advised to use the GameBoy variant. In contrast to the high-resolution, but graphically very sterile PSP version, the GameBoy version offers a pretty upscale 16-bit level.
The same applies to the PSOne conversion, but you can use the menu to change whether you want to use the modern handouts or whether you want to embark on the rock-hard adventure of 1987. For the purist, Final Fantasy Origins is the first choice, at least until the NES original appears in Germany via the Virtual Console. And if you are really a fan of the series, you should at least invest a few hours in the first release. Of course, it cannot keep up with later highlights in terms of play and content, but it is fascinating to watch how Sakaguchi, Uematsu, Amano, Gebelli and the others lay the modest foundations of the later global success here.